Canada Calling: Politicians Praise Israel at Canada-Israel Meeting
With elections on the horizon, federal politicians worked hard to outdo each other in their praise for the Jewish state at the biennial policy conference of Canada's principal lobby group, the Canada-Israel Committee.
"Israel stands alone as a beacon of popular democracy in the Middle East," Liberal leader Jean Chretien told a gathering of over 1,400 community leaders gathered in Ottawa March 29-30. "My party is committed to expanding our trade relationship with Israel . . . Together, we can make the relationship between Canada and Israel stronger than ever."
Although Chretien expressed support for the ongoing Arab-Israeli negotiations, pointedly missing from his speech was any mention whatsoever of Palestinians, let alone Palestinian rights. The only reference the Liberal leader made to Arabs was when he chastised Arab states for "persisting in their hostile stance toward Israel," and urged Arab leaders to "reciprocate Israeli gestures of good faith."
Audrey Mclaughlin, leader of the New Democratic Party, was equally zealous in extolling Israel's virtues, but hinted ever so delicately that not everything the Jewish state did was praiseworthy. After declaring that Canadians "marveled at the capacity of Israel to welcome Soviet Jews," and praising Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for his "vigorous pursuit of peace," Mclaughlin suggested "friends sometimes disagree" and that the mass expulsion of Palestinians last December may not have been in Israel's best interest.
Even this mild rebuke evoked an angry response from some members of the audience during the question period, prompting Mclaughlin to protest that she was not criticizing Israel's move but only suggesting the expulsions "may not have had the intended effect" of curbing violence.
The only politician bold enough to address the contentious issue of Palestinian rights was the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, a nationalist party committed to Quebec's independence. "To call for a negotiated solution is also to insist on the need for recognizing and taking Palestinian rights into account," said Lucien Bouchard. He expressed his party's support for Canada's present position, which advocates the land-for-peace formula inherent in U.N. Resolution 242.
"I can't see how a sovereign state of Quebec could be less forceful than Ottawa in its support for the Palestinians' right to self-determination," he said to murmurs of disapproval. …